Remembering to touch the ground with our feet | Weekly Worship
When mindfulness is stationed as a sentinel,
A guard upon the threshold of the mind,
Mental scrutiny is likewise present,
Returning when forgotten or disperse.” -Shantideva
Many of us seem to forget to attend to our feet as they carry us one step at a time from ground to space and from space to ground.
We need some method to support our mind – and our life – to come back from where it wanders to.
Many of us are not aware of how often our attention drifts away from the present moment until we are reminded by an event, such as leaving our keys in the post office box, or forgetting your bank deposit in your bag left on the checkout counter at the grocery store.
Do any of these illustrations ring true for you? This is an international epidemic. Our attention has gone wonky, and we are paying dearly for it environmentally and socially.
We simply don’t remember how our feet are touching the ground. So, what do we do? We need serious training in learning how to tame our attention.
Without training, we cannot attain optimal states of mental and physical health. This can lead to a plethora of problems from loss of sleep, to irritability, to clinical depression, to emotional and physical imbalance, and to tremendous turbulence within our family and work life.
In his classic treatise, “Stages of Meditation,” the eighth century Indian Buddhist contemplative Kamalashila, argued with his fellow contemplatives that a “thorough purification of the mind,” is needed in order to harness our attention, and live a life of awareness and balance.
He argued that three things were required: ethics, attention and contemplative insight.
Glimpses of insight are wonderful but not long lasting, as where contemplative insight must be supported by what B. Alan Wallace, refers to as “a high degree of attentional balance, and this requires systematic training.”
In his beautiful treatise, “The Attention Revolution,” Wallace outlines 10 primary stages of attentional practice translated from Kamalashila’s instructions. The following are the listed stages:
1. Directed attention
2. Continuous attention
3. Resurgent attention
4. Close attention
5. Tamed attention
6. Pacified attention
7. Fully pacified attention
8. Single pointed attention
9. Attentional balance
The 10 stages above should be practiced sequentially, as we pursue them in following columns.
To begin with, however, a mind that struggles to focus for more than a few seconds may be able to develop toward a state of “sublime” stability and “vividness” that can be sustained for hours on and off the cushion.
Although, to attain success in liberating our mind from psychological agitation and dullness, we must undergo specific criteria “accompanied by a clear sign” of arrival upon the favorable effects of the training.
The first three methods related to these 10 stages are to help those in the modern world. The first four stages should include whatever you feel comfortable with.
By the fifth stage, your mind may become relatively stable – a sign that reflects readiness to enter more subtle methods of attentional practice.
To attain the first four stages, the recommendation is to practice mindfulness of breathing. There are numerous methods of this practice ranging from Zen, Vipassana to Tibetan Buddhist practices.
Mindfulness of breathing implies that you settle your awareness upon all of the sensations involving your breathing, continually returning your attention there whenever your mind drifts away.
Once at the fifth stage, Kamalashila recommends a method referred to as “settling the mind in its natural state.” In this practice, we direct our attention to the full range of the mind’s psychological events: thoughts, mental images and emotions arising in the realm.
This particular practice is actually taken from Dzogchen: “The Great Perfection” lineage, and found as well within the domain of other Buddhist traditions.
In the eighth stage and beyond, the practitioner must engage in another set of even more subtle practices in maintaining “awareness of awareness itself.” The method is referred to as “shamatha without an object.”
In this practice, it isn’t so much about development of attentional stability and vividness, “as it is of discovering the stillness and luminosity inherent in awareness itself.”
These are practices that we will pursue with a bit more detail in later columns.
However, in the practice of mindfulness of the breath, this is a useful method to help with those who suffer from attention deficit disorder combined with the hyperactive component.
The second practice, settling the mind in its natural state, is found by most people to be more difficult.
Although this may be true, it can be attained depending upon the individual’s commitment to the practice concurrent with one’s lifestyle and support systems.
Until the next column, may you be blessed with deep insight, peace and contentment, and may your attention be tamed in the New Year. Happy New Year.